Ranking Disney: #8 – Lady and the Tramp (1951)
This movie was a real revelation to me. I didn’t remember having watched this as a child, though I’m sure I did. I really only remembered certain bits and pieces and a shot here or there. But, when they released this on Blu-Ray, and I saw it again after about fifteen years, I was absolutely blown away.
What struck me most about this film is how gorgeous the animation was. Plus, they made it widescreen. That appeals to me on so many levels (specifically because — it was 1955, and that was when widescreen was the thing. This and Sleeping Beauty are, to me, possibly my two favorite films in terms of animation simply because of the widescreen).
Plus, the story is so simple. I love when the stories are simple. It’s not really about anything, and the villains are all about the particular situation. I mean, how many films have as a villain a crusty old lady and tow cats? (Especially since they don’t really do anything too evil, yet it feels that way.) And, I guess the rat is kind of a villain too, but you get what I mean.
This film is absolutely perfect. I watched it before I figured out where stuff was going to be ranked, so I was surprised and delighted when I realized this was an easy top ten film. It’s so wonderful.
It begins at the home of Jim Dear and Darling (the names they call each other), on Christmas, as Jim Dear gives Darling a present, which turns out to be Lady.
And we see Lady’s first night in the house, as they try to give her a doggy bed in the kitchen, but she keeps trying to go upstairs with them. Eventually she is given a spot on their bed and told it’s just “for tonight.”
Of course, we cut to six months later and Lady is fully grown and still sleeping in the bed. And we follow Lady around, meeting her friends, the neighbor dogs, Jock (the Scot) and Trusty (an old hunting dog who has lost his sense of smell).
(Look at that framing! It’s terrific!)
We then meet the Tramp, who is a stray who lives by the railroad tracks and gets his food from the local shops in town, specifically Tony, the Italian chef. And he ends up being chased by the local dogcatcher (after freeing two of his friends) into the rich neighborhood where Lady lives. And this happens on the day where Lady finds out that Jim Dear and Darling are going to have a baby. And Tramp tells them that once a baby comes, humans stop treating dogs as nicely as they used to.
Then we fast forward to the baby being born (after a montage of the humans being too busy to play with Lady), and Jim Dear and Darling making a big fuss over it.
Lady is worried (and also unsure of what a baby actually is), until she is let into the room and shown the baby, and realizes that Jim Dear and Darling still love her just the same.
Then we find out the two of them are going on a trip for a few days, and are leaving the baby behind to be cared for by Aunt Sarah. Aunt Sarah has two Siamese cats, and is not a dog person. So she shoos Lady away from the baby the way Tramp said humans would do (and Jim Dear and Darling never did).
And then there’s that great Siamese Cat song as the two clearly-Asian coded cats (it’s kind of fucked up how they work the racism in like that. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “You were doing so well… why would you deliberately go and fuck it up like that?” It reminds me of that scene in Little Children, where Jackie Earle Haley is on the date with the woman, and everything is going really well, and then he just pulls out his dick and starts jacking it in the car. Disney just can’t help jackin’ it in the car when it comes to racism) wreak havoc around the house, ripping the drapes and breaking things, and getting Lady blamed for it. Then Aunt Sarah puts a muzzle on Lady (wicked old bitch that she is).
Only, as they put the muzzle on, Lady escapes and runs away. And she runs into the poor side of town and is chased by some dangerous looking strays, only for Tramp to come to her rescue. He fights the dogs off and helps her take off the muzzle (by bringing her to the zoo, where a beaver gnaws it off after Tramp cons him into thinking it’s a device that will help him haul logs).
Then they spend the day talking, and Lady tells the Tramp all about Aunt Sarah and the cats, and Tramp says that’s what she gets for tying herself down to one family. He says he has one family for every day of the week. He extols the benefits of not being tied down to anyone or anything, and then takes her to Tony’s restaurant for some dinner. This leads to the famous pasta scene, with one of the most iconic images in all of cinema, as Tony serenades Lady and the Tramp with “Bella Notte.”
And then Lady and the Tramp walk through the park together and fall in love. And in the morning, Lady says she should be getting home, but Tramp tells her to open her eyes to “what a dog’s life can really be.” He shows her how big the world really is, and says there’s no telling how much adventure there is out there for two dogs.
She says it sounds wonderful, “but who’d watch out for the baby?” Tramp realizes she’s still tied down to her family and agrees to take her home. But on the way home he gets her to chase chickens, hoping to show her enough fun stuff that she won’t want to go back home. But as they run away, Lady is captured by the dogcatcher.
While at the pound, Lady talks to all the other captured strays, who tell her that her license will get her out of there in no time. In the meantime, she hears about all of the Tramp’s female conquests, and how he’s usually a heartbreaker (and also is never caught by the dogcatcher). I really like how they draw up Peg, one of the dogs he saved earlier in the film. In another movie, she’d be the lounge singer type who is kind of a loose woman, who has a borderline sexual relationship with Tramp, and is desperately in love with him, but knows that he’s in love with the pure woman, and it hurts. (Kind of like Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind.)
Only Boris, the Russian philosopher dog (and Bull, the bull terrier, and Dachsie, the dachshund, Toughy, the Brooklyn-accented dog), says that one day, he’ll find a different type of dog and let down his guard and finally be captured. This horrifies Lady, who then is taken back to Aunt Sarah, who ties her up outside in the doghouse.
Tramp comes over with a bone, but is rebuffed (and rebuked) by Lady, who thinks he was trying to get rid of her. She tells him to get lost, and he does, even though it’s clear they both love each other. (Can someone make a list of how many times this scene is the end of act two in movies? Seriously.)
Anyway, then it starts raining, and a rat decides to come sneak its way into the house. Lady tries chasing it away, but she’s chained to the doghouse, and cannot. She barks at it, and the Tramp hears her barks, thinking she’s calling him back. The rat ends up sneaking into the baby’s room, and the Tramp rushes into the house and has a fight with the rat. Lady ends up breaking the chain and running upstairs herself. The Tramp ends up killing the rat, only Aunt Sarah thinks the mayhem in the room was caused by both Lady and the Trap, so she locks Tramp up in the closet and calls the dogcatcher. Lady tries telling her about the rat, but she’s a stubborn old bitch and locks Lady in the cellar.
Jim Dear and Darling return home just as the dogcatcher leads Tramp outside, hinting that they’re going to kill him as soon as they get him to the pound. They rush inside, and as Aunt Sarah tells them her version of what happened (and they say how Lady would never do a thing like that), Lady brings them upstairs and shows them the rat. Jock and Trusty overhear this, and realize they’ve misjudged Tramp all this time.
They rush off to stop the dogcatcher before they kill Tramp. Trusty sets off to follow the scent of the wagon, only Jock tells him to face the fact that he can’t smell like he used to. Trusty refuses to believe this, and goes off after the wagon. And sure enough – they track it down.
They do their best to stop it, scaring the horses and causing them to fall over, tipping the carriage over. Just then, Jim Dear, Darling and Lady drive up to tell the dogcatcher to let Tramp go. Only, as this is happening, we realize the wagon fell on Trusty, and they think he’s dead.
Then we cut to Christmas, and we see that Tramp is now part of the family. He has a license and everything.
And there are even puppies now, as well. Three little Lady’s and a Tramp. Jim Dear and Darling take a portrait of them with the baby, just as they see some visitors arrive at the house – Jock, and Trusty, who is bandaged, but all right. And they all play together as the film ends.
It also ends with the same shot as the first shot in the film. I love when films do that. Swoop down into the story and pull back at the end. It always has that feel of, “We can be told any story, we’re being told this one. Now let’s go back so we can tell the next one.”
The things I love most about this film are — the animation first, of course. Then, the widescreen. The widescreen just makes this pop even more. Same for Sleeping Beauty, on both counts. Then, I like that the story takes place from the dogs’ point of view. I like that we don’t know the actual names of the owners (well… Darling, anyway. We can infer that Jim Dear is named Jim), and that we rarely see humans on screen. Like, during the baby shower, we only see their legs. I love that.
Everything about this movie is absolutely perfect, and honestly, were it not for the other seven movies on this list, I’d want to put this even higher.
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Official Disney Number: #15
Run Time: 75 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 1955
Budget: $4 million
Box Office: $36.4 million domestically in its initial run, $93.6 million all time domestically.
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- “Peace on Earth,” performed by Donald Novis and Chorus
- “What Is a Baby?” performed by Peggy Lee
- “La La Lu,” performed by Peggy Lee
- “The Siamese Cat Song,” performed by Peggy Lee
- “Bella Notte (This Is the Night),” performed by George Givot
- “He’s a Tramp,” performed by Peggy Lee
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- This is the first feature-length animated film to be made in widescreen. It’s also the widest film Disney has ever created.
- This was the highest-grossing Disney film since Snow White when it came out.
- This was actually one of the few stories created in-house by Disney up to this point. (I think the other was Dumbo.) It’s because of this that Walt considered it a “fun” film to make, since they didn’t have to obey any preexisting story guidelines.
- Peggy Lee’s voice work in this film seems to be the first time a real celebrity was used for a voice in a Disney film. Before this, there wasn’t really anyone that famous. (You could make cases for some people, but Peggy Lee was a big deal in 1955.)
- Ironically, Walt originally didn’t want to include the spaghetti scene.
- The opening shot was based on something that actually happened to Walt. He had forgotten a date with his wife, and offered her a puppy in a hat box for forgiveness. (It worked.)
- Apparently the sound of the dogs chasing Lady are the same sounds as the dogs who chase Bambi and Faline.
- They also recycled the Beaver character for Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, becoming the Gopher that they ask to free Pooh from Rabbit’s door. (I knew I recognized it from somewhere.)
- Originally, Trusty was killed at the end of the film, but Disney was like, “Haven’t we scared the kids enough already with Bambi?” which is why there’s that awkward transition and everyone’s alive and happy at the end.
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1. The classic Disney “house at the end of the street” shot. From afar and up close. (Also, the first shot is a track all the way in to the second. First off, that makes it my favorite of these “house” shots, and also reminds me of American Beauty. Just sayin’, for that second part. It just does.)
2. Characters framed by foliage. Classic Disney shot.
3. Character reflected in water. Not only classic Disney, but artfully done, too.
4. Just like Pongo in One Hundred and One Dalmatians.
5. Oh you knew there was gonna be some negative coloring up in here. (There’s also a lot at the end during the fight with the rat, but I didn’t include it. I think you get the point.)
6. I miss these shots. The ones of a character coming inside during a snowstorm and the snow blowing all inside. I’ve never seen that happen in real life, but I don’t care. I still love it.
7. Classic Disney side window shot.
8. You’ve seen this shot a bunch. Disney likes showing fights in silhouette.
9. Clothesline shot. They do this again in, I think, Oliver and Company. I’m pretty sure I included a shot of it there.
10. I love Disney downpours. The animation is always beautiful.
11. Look at that framing. Also, it’s kind of similar to that tunnel in The Aristocats (and there’s a similar shot in One Hundred and One Dalmatians as well, which I’m not sure whether or not I included in my article for it).
12. Cinderella and Prince Charming walk over a bridge like that. (Also, so does Mulan.)
13. Love me some dawn shots.
14. Two shots here that really make me like the Tramp. First, him nosing over the last meatball to Lady. Second (and the one I like more), right after they wake up in the park, he’s awake and she’s asleep, and he just looks at her. There’s more said in that look than can ever be said with words. Brilliant, Disney. Absolutely brilliant.
15. Beautiful framing, plus, this was always one of those shots that I always remembered from this film. I just really, really like it.
16. I love when Disney does P.O.V. shots.
17. I want to finish this article with a bunch of gorgeous shots from the film, just because this is, in my mind, possibly one of the top five best animated Disney films there is. Look at the beauty and care taken in all of these images.